In March 2008 the artist Michael Stevenson
self-published a slender document entitled “Fables” to accompany his
project “Lender of Last Resort” at the Kröller-Müller Museum in the
Netherlands. It was a series of some nine texts in fable form, and each
suggested further allegorical readings on a tableau the artist assembled
in the museum. All were co-written by Stevenson and the art critic Jan
Verwoert. The project itself was developed around the notion of the
bilateral loan contract, both in the financial sense, but also regarding
the museological. A loan is perhaps best defined as an inter-temporal
transfer of value through time. It is probably the oldest financial
instrument, dating at least from the birth of writing. Some of the first
ever written documents describe loans, bad loans in fact (default being
the real reason the record has remained). The tableau itself was
constructed from objects related to the founding of the museum, a process
that unfolded in and among the banking crisis of 1924. The publication was
only available in the space itself and has long since been out of print.
“Animal Spirits: Fables in the Parlance of Our Times” is an artist's book
by Michael Stevenson
and Jan Verwoert
which expands upon the
themes of this earlier document and re-examines them more specifically in
the light of our current times. It is based on a collaborative process, a
process that resembles a game. Stevenson
developed a working
method in which plot structure remained open, a kind of partial exquisite
corpse, i.e. text fragments passed back and forth without prior discussion
as to any through line. These stories were co-illustrated in a similar way
by the artist and Margaret Stevenson, his mother—the moral guide; the
results were then made into a publication by Christoph Keller. A page at
the end of the book announces the contributors thus: artist, mother,
critic, and spirit maker.
The stories themselves take classic fable form and so most are concerned
with arrangements between two parties or what could be called informal
bilateral contracts. Galvanized and translated within parallel realities
they produce a world in which the Beginning of the World has a voice and
dares to question the might of the Bull. A world where the Shareholder
sips wine at the dinner table with the Jackal, and the Lion, in a crisis,
calls on his Hairdresser for council in matters of sovereign security.
“Haircuts … Severe haircuts!”
Described as an “anthropologist of the avant-garde”, Michael Stevenson (born in 1964 in Inglewood, New Zealand, lives and works in Berlin) investigates the mythology that surrounds renowned and controversial events which have been significant in the spheres of both art and politics.
Jan Verwoert (born 1972) is an art historian and critic based in Berlin. He is a contributing editor at Frieze and writes regularly about contemporary art for magazines such as Afterall and Metropolis M. A member of the advisory board of the Kunstverein Munich and Guest Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory at the Academy of Umeå, he teaches in the Fine Arts MA program at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam, and at the Royal College of Art in London.